Spirantization and the Notion of Phonological Strength Relations in Assamese: An Optimality Theoretic Account

Hemanga Dutta 1 ,
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1The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU)
Corresponding Author : Hemanga Dutta, Department of Linguistics and Contemporary English, The English and Foreign Language University (EFLU), Hyderabad-500605, India. Phone: 091-9550575673; Email:

Copyright ⓒ 2016, Sejong University Language Research Institue. This is an Open-Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License ( which permits unrestricted non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

Received: Dec 08, 2011; Revised: Jan 20, 2012; Accepted: Jan 31, 2012

Published Online: Jan 01, 2017


The paper investigates the problem of phonological strength relations that account for the organization of speech sounds in a specific fashion in the light of spirantization process as attested in the Assamese language, an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the northeastern part of India.

In Assamese aspirated stops /pʰ/ and /bʰ/ are spirantized as [f] and [v] in word-final position, leaving the unaspirated stops intact. In word-initial and medial positions spirantization is blocked in Assamese. De-aspiration in Assamese does not apply to word final position when no following consonant occurs. In Assamese, coda is de-aspirated when it is followed by an aspirated onset. However the fricatives /f/ and /v/ never lose their feature [+asp] despite the fact that both consonants occur in the word-final position or in coda position, being followed by aspirated onset. They turn in to /pʰ/ and /bʰ/ respectively when they are followed by obstruents. Nevertheless, the feature [+asp] is maintained in the onset position which does not undergo alternation. Distribution of Assamese aspirated phonemes at word boundary inform us that only the labial stops spirantize at the word-final position unlike coronal and velar stops which are not susceptible to the process of spirantization.

Keywords: phonological strength; spirantization; de-aspiration



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